A case could be made that Fenway Park, which turns 107 this April, has seen it all. But this weekend, thanks to months of planning, thousands of hours of construction, and an ambitious frozen race course, the ageless ballpark will host the unique thrill of ice cross downhill.
Red Bull Crashed Ice, the world tour of ice cross downhill, is making its first appearance in a stadium venue. On Feb. 8-9, Boston fans will have a chance to watch some of the most daring and talented skaters in the world descend a seven-story platform constructed in the right field stands, finishing a winding 1,200-foot course near home plate.
Four racers at a time hurtle down the narrow, ice-covered track, jockeying for position over jumps and through hairpin turns. It will be a change of pace from Fenway’s usual sport of choice. Still, the history of the ballpark isn’t lost on proponents of the extreme sport.
“I’m so happy to be here in Boston, and especially Fenway Park,’’ said Red Bull Crashed Ice director Christian Papillon on Wednesday. “It’s such a mythic ballpark, the most impressive and historic ballpark in the world. I’m saying that and getting goosebumps all over.’’
For Papillon, the timing of this weekend’s event couldn’t have been better. Crashed Ice was in Finland a week ago, but swept into Boston in the aftermath of another championship celebration.
“I was flying here from Finland with my Tom Brady jersey, trying to catch WiFi to get the updates of the game,’’ Papillon said.
Though he was once an ice cross downhill racer himself, Papillon has since moved into the director’s chair. It was his design — or series of designs — which has now sprung to life inside Fenway. Six weeks of building inside the ballpark, totaling more than 9,000 pieces of scaffolding and 107,000 square feet of aluminium flooring, has resulted in the realization of Red Bull’s vision.
At Wednesday’s press conference at Fenway, hosted in a club pavilion overlooking the field, Papillon sat facing both the media and, in the background, his creation. As he lifted his head to look out on the imposing ice course, his eyes lit up.
“It’s an impressive piece of art,’’ the Quebec City native said. “Always first when I come on set looking at the location, I think about what we can do to get the best out of [it]. How can we challenge the riders, as well as give a good show for the spectators?’’
In Papillon’s view, balancing the varying factors of athletes, fans, and venue possibilities is a narrow path on which to skate. Looking at the result, he’s optimistic.
“I really do think that here we managed to get all of this together,’’ he said. “We have an awesome track with I think seven jumps, and two hairpin turns. That always leads with a lot of action. Hairpin turns, they all want to be first.’’
Starting on top of the platform in right field, racers shoot down onto a quarter pipe, reversing their path before winding around and down the structure, dashing toward the infield. Skaters can approach speeds of 50 miles per hour, before Papillon’s hairpin turn. From there, they circle the infield before reaching the finish line at home plate, all while dealing with well-timed course undulations.
The field of 172 athletes – competing in men’s, women’s, and junior categories – includes several top American skaters. The winners will be awarded 1,000 points toward the Ice Cross Downhill World Championship season.
“I think that having the event inside Fenway Park is going to be a game-changer for the sport of ice cross downhill,’’ said two-time men’s world champion Cameron Naasz in September when the event was announced. “Just the whole idea behind it is pretty exciting.’’
Naasz and Amanda Trunzo — a former Dartmouth hockey player and reigning women’s world champion — give American fans a few strong contenders to look forward to. Derek Wedge, a Swiss skater, also has a local tie: He was born in Boston 36 years ago. In the junior’s division, American Richie Velasquez leads in the overall standings heading into the Boston event.
“The track is going to be action-packed and super quick,’’ said Michael Iulianello, another of the American contingent of racers. “You have some technical parts that help separate out the riders. And that long straightaway going from the outfield to first base will definitely be for top speeds.’’
Iulianello, formerly of St. Bonaventure hockey, got his start as a “wild card’’ entry after a tryout during his senior year. He now works a day job in an office, but makes time to compete in places like Finland and Japan.
“You get to travel around each year to a couple different countries,’’ Iulianello explained. “It’s a unique experience. You get to compete, so I love doing it.’’
Just like Iulianello, Fenway will play host to two new wild-card entries. After a series of local tryouts, New Hampshire’s Thomas Missert and Massachusetts’ Katie Guay won spots in the qualifying rounds to make their ice cross downhill debuts.
Hosting Crashed Ice is the latest in a line of winter events for Fenway. Along with the hockey series Frozen Fenway, the ballpark was also a venue for a big air contest in 2016.
“We’re glad to continue that history,’’ said Fred Olsen of Fenway Sports Management. “This will be an exciting chapter.’’